Sunday, January 10, 2010

America is Polish!

I think it’s time to redefine Polock. It’s traditionally used to describe someone of Polish descent, but it should mean something else. After all, it’s often a term that’s been used as an insult. T.V.’s Archie Bunker repeatedly called his son-in-law a “Meathead Polock,” invoking the once-common prejudice our grandfathers had regarding Polish people being generally stupid. At least two generations of children, including my generation, has grown up telling “Polish jokes” on the playground, and now that we’re all grown up, we wonder why. Polish people successfully built a church here in Milwaukee so grand that the Catholic Archdiocese officially dubbed it a Basilica. (St. Joshophat’s on 6th and Lincoln.) Pope John Paul II was Polish. Poles have repeatedly been successful doctors, lawyers, and scientists. Yet the perception that a Polock is tantamount to being a dunderhead has persisted throughout recent decades. The saying I’d always heard was that the three people you should beware of in this life are an American with a contract to sign, an Irishman with a favor to ask, and a Polock with an idea to offer. Where does this perception of Polish people being stupid come from?

I think it probably has something to do with World War II, when Poland was invaded. The Polish army attempted to stand up to tanks and airplanes with cavalry and rifles. That’s all they really had to defend themselves with at the time, but in retrospect, it did look pretty stupid. Poland was the only country which did not prepare for war in Europe of the 1930’s, hence the stupidity stereotype. The country ended up bifurcated, with one side going to the Soviets, and the other to Nazi Germany.

Poetically, that’s the perfect image for my suggestion to re-define what “Polock” means. Because currently, we are being “polarized” in exactly the same sort of way. Half of our country going one way, and half the other.

I see this repeatedly as I listen to the news broadcasts and talking heads shows. I see this on the college campuses and talking to people in bars. People don’t see issues in terms of ethical questions anymore. They don’t see them in terms of right vs. wrong anymore, either. No, they see them in terms of liberal vs. conservative. If you’re batting for Team Conservative, nothing liberals do is right. If you’re batting for Team Liberal, everything conservatives do is wrong. The liberals see conservatism as evil, and the conservatives see liberalism as super-evil. In other words, we’re “polarized,” making us “Poles,” with one pole going one way, and one pole going the other, just like a North and a South “pole.” We’re a “Polish” country! Or, perhaps it’s best said, a “poll-ish” country.

This is important, because it really divides us unnecessarily. Dates end on a perfunctory note because of political differences. Old friends who have known each other since kindergarten end up bickering instead of getting together for a beer. Coworkers argue with each other. Entire news networks bend towards catering to one side or the other, and when one political side begins moving the rope their way in this endless tug-of-war, angry mobs of people assemble to ruin town hall meetings and drive out any rational discourse in favor of utter chaos. How the hell did we end up fighting with each other like this?

I think it has to do with the fact that we’re so information overloaded that we have a hard time gathering news. We have family, work, kids, school… and maybe a few precious moments alone, or half an hour to watch a favorite TV show each week. Who the hell has the time to keep up? So, many of us turn to news outlets which give us our news in quick bursts, and political interests have successfully taken those news outlets over to constantly feed politics of only one side or the other during that limited time. For young busy people, quick news wrapped in humor is the ideal choice, such as the Daily Show. To older, busy adults, news outlets which talk about current events while you’re working or driving in your car, such as talk radio, are preferred. So , in reaction to the perception that major news networks were too liberal, investors with grandpa’s values started buying up A.M. radio wherever they could, and this started sometime during Reagan’s administration. Two years after Clinton’s election and debacle over gays in the military, radio had gotten so completely polarized towards the conservative side that it won congress back for the Republicans. In reaction, cable T.V. seemed to become more liberal. In reaction, FOX news was launched. In reaction, Air America radio was launched, along with MSNBC. But cable news is for young people while radio is an old-man’s format. So Air America largely failed, while MSNBC was successful. Now, mega-corporations with partisan interests are constantly trying to buy up our last 15 minutes of free-time to influence our opinions – and it’s working! We’re partisan, and we’ve taken to hating our fellow Americans!

That’s the problem. What’s the solution? The solution is to remember that being polarized, that is, being “Polish,” is tantamount to being a dunderhead! If you think that conservatives are always right, and liberals are always wrong, or vice-versa, you’re just a dumb, meathead “Polock.” In the REAL world, conservatives are sometimes right, and sometimes wrong. In the REAL world, liberals are also sometimes right and sometimes wrong. That’s just reality of the world in which we live. To equate either conservatism or liberalism with evil is just plain childish!

Here’s a true gem: You always learn more from those with a different view than your own. So the way to learn the most is to actively seek those views out! Only half a political perspective, conservative or liberal, is only half the story. And here’s another one: Half a political perspective is the same as only having half a brain! We have right and left halves of our brain, but they function well because they cooperate across that all-important bridge called the corpus callosum.

Our society needs a little more corpus callosum.

So here’s your assignment: Take some time to listen to the other side’s news outlet. If you’re liberal, watch FOX News awhile. If you’re conservative, watch the Rachel Maddow show, or something else truly liberal. (Public radio doesn’t count. No, it’s not liberal. Seriously!) Also, read some news sources from other nations who don’t have the political polarizations we do.

I believe it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said that if you have the same views today that you held four years ago, that you’ve wasted four years of your life.

Now go climb the other side of the mountain!


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